Speaking at a PBS NewsHour town hall last week in Indiana, President Obama was asked a thoughtful, nuanced question by a man in the audience about gun control.
His question is worth quoting in full because Obama not only artfully dodges the substance of the question but ignores the salient example the questioner gives about why gun control laws don’t seem to work in places with the strictest measures:
Why do you and Hillary want to control and restrict gun manufacturers, gun owners, and the responsible use of guns and ammunition to the rest of us, the good guys, instead of holding the bad guys accountable for their actions? And Mr. President if I may, I’d like to use Chicago, your home town, a city that has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, a city that for decades, and still is, under Democratic control, a city that has an outrageous an even embarrassing murder rate, as my first example. Why can’t we round up these thugs, these drugs dealers and gang members and hold them accountable for their actions, or allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms to protect themselves?
Obama’s answer is both defensive and dissembling. He begins by imputing an argument to the questioner that was never made, that Obama simply wants to confiscate guns. “At no point have I ever proposed confiscating guns from responsible gun owners,” the president says.
That’s not to say one couldn’t make an argument that in fact Obama and Hillary Clinton have both proposed gun confiscation. After the Charleston church massacre last summer, Obama cited Australia’s gun control reforms of the 1990s as an example that America should follow. He did so again after the Oregon community college shooting last fall.
What were those Australian gun control measures? A ban on semi-automatic and automatic rifles and shotguns, and a mandatory buy-back program for the newly banned weapons. What was the penalty in Australia for not handing over your previously legal firearms to the government? Arrest and criminal conviction with up to 12 months in prison. By any reasonable measure, that’s a confiscatory gun control regime, and Obama has publically called for it in the United States.
Obama Shrugs Off The Second Amendment
But that’s not what the man was asking about. He was asking why Obama supports gun control measures that haven’t curtailed gun violence in places like Chicago. He never got an answer. Instead, Obama rambled on about how we require people to get a driver’s license before they can drive a car, and how regulating auto manufacturers—requiring seat belts, air bags, etc.—have reduced auto fatalities. The president mused, “Why don’t we treat this like every other thing that we use?”
Because, Mr. President, every other thing we use isn’t protected by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On this point Obama is either confused or he just doesn’t believe the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, which was affirmed in 2008 by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. It’s unlikely Obama would ever repudiate Heller outright, since the vast majority of Americans agree that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun. But it’s a reasonable assumption given the kinds of gun control measures he has called for. (The same goes for Clinton. Yesterday, she couldn’t bring herself to say that an individual’s right to bear arms was a constitutional right during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.)
At the very least, Obama thinks we should regulate guns like automobiles. He then sets up a straw man, saying, “We are not allowed to do any of that when it comes to guns because if you propose anything, it is suggested that we’re trying to wipe away gun rights and impose tyranny and martial law.”
Setting aside the president’s hyperbole here, it’s not hard to see how regulating guns like automobiles would necessarily lead to a repudiation of the Second Amendment, or how a mandatory buy-back program on the Australian model would impose a kind of tyranny insofar as it would turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.
The NRA Doesn’t Protect Gun Rights, The Constitution Does
But Obama’s true opinion of the Second Amendment came out when he explained how American citizens who are known to have visited ISIS websites—“ISIL sympathizers”—can be placed on a no-fly list: “But because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun.”
No, Mr. President, you can’t prohibit American citizens who haven’t been convicted of a crime from buying a gun because of the Second Amendment, not the NRA.
Not once does Obama breathe a word about Chicago, where the murder rate has increased by 72 percent compared with last year. In the first three months of 2016, shootings there were up 88 percent compared to the previous year.
Chicago only begrudgingly allowed conceal and carry permits after the Illinois Legislature passed a concealed carry law in 2013, and that happened only after the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s previous ban on carrying a weapon in public was unconstitutional. Even with that law, however, as of November 2015 only 136,920 Illinoisans have a concealed carry license, in part because of byzantine rules restricting who can obtain a license and where they can carry. Of course, all those rules are ignored by the Chicago gangs responsible for most of the gun violence in that city.
But don’t bother asking the president about it.